EDITORIAL: Robert Mugabe and the lesson for African leaders

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Zimbabwe’s long-term leader, Robert Gabriel Mugabe passed away during protracted illness in far away Singapore. He died an arrow-head of libration and the struggle for self-determination for the country that currently grapples to overcome economic challenges foisted on it through political decisions of this late leader. The history of Africa liberation, anti-colonialism struggle will be incomplete without the mention of the selfless sacrifice of Mugabe, especially in his country, Zimbabwe.

In what was then Rhodesia, a British colony, run by white minority, Mugabe was vocal in his criticism of the government. In 1964, he was imprisoned for a decade without trial. While behind bars, Mugabe’s only son, Michael Mugabe, died in 1966 while suffering from cerebral malaria in Ghana where he was with her mother, Sally Hayfon, Mugabe’s first wife.

While in prison, in 1973, he was chosen as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), a political group he had been a founding member since 1964.

Upon his eventual release, Robert Mugabe superintended over aggressive guerrilla raids that forced the white minority government to give attention to the agitation of Mugabe and other black liberation fighters. This led to political agreements that ended the crisis and with resultant efforts leading to the independent of Zimbabwe.

His selfless struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe placed him on the same pedestal with African legends like Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere, whose sacrifice for the continent and their various countries is eminent in Africa’s history, would remain topics taught in schools across the continent.

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By 1980, Mugabe won overwhelmingly in the country’s first election overseeing a period of economic progress in a Zimbabwe so promising economically. Unfortunately, Mugabe became power-drunk and his libration persona morphed to a monster and tyrant who ruled instead of lead his country with iron fist.

He became allergic to criticism, opposition and eventually turned against his comrades who fought the colonialists beside him. He reportedly said that only God could overthrow him as Zimbabwe President, thereby perpetuating himself in office for almost four decades.

From a country with promising future, Zimbabwe slipped into recession, depression and eventually fell into the abyss of hyperinflation, yet Mugabe was unmoved by these failings. He became hostile to countries (especially western countries) that criticize his management of the country, particularly his frequent obnoxious manipulation and change of constitution to favour his continued stay in office.

In the mist of these national challenges and political crisis, Mugabe in 2017 began moves to manipulate the constitution to install his wife, Grace Mugabe, whom he married after the death of Sally, as his successor. This time, the military, his reliable ally kicked against the decision and aligned with the opposition to force his eventual removal from office.

There are reports that Robert Mugabe died a lonely and unhappy old man who felt betrayed by those he trusted. It is however unfortunate how an African hero became a subject of reference to tyranny, dictatorship and despotic leadership that has plagued the continent since the 20th century.

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Robert Gabriel Mugabe
Robert Gabriel Mugabe

His contemporaries died with sterling remembrance of their efforts to make their countries a better place. Nelson Mandela would forever be remembered as an embodiment of reconciliation and forgiveness. He is celebrated worldwide with the United Nations (UN) dedicating a day in its calendar for this icon. Julius Nyerere remains the only politician in Africa that is on the journey to being declared a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Mugabe’s disgraceful removal from office should be a lesson to African leaders across the continent that power belongs to the people. His removal brought to remembrance the words of Jacques Abbadie, “One can fool some men, or fool all men in some places and times, but one cannot fool all men in all places and ages.” The people rose against his wish and they prevailed because power ultimately rest with the people.

His death in a Singapore hospital is a testament of the failure of his 37 years in power with nothing to show for healthcare provision in Zimbabwe.

Nigerian leadership class must note that the electorate may appear helpless to heavyweight recklessness and manipulation to remain in power through rigging and inciting divisive utterances. When the people agree with one voice to stand against these excesses, their agitation would know no barrier.

IMPACT NEWS advises that Nigerian leaders should learn from the mistake of Mugabe and retrace their step back to good governance, purposeful leadership and people centered policies. This is the legacy to leave behind for posterity.

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